21 The Lord was good to Sarah and kept his promise. 2 Although Abraham was very old, Sarah had a son exactly at the time God had said. 3 Abraham named his son Isaac.
22 Some years later God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him.
Abraham answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
2 The Lord said, “Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” 3 So Abraham got up early the next morning and chopped wood for the fire. He put a saddle on his donkey and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go.
4 Three days later Abraham looked off in the distance and saw the place. 5 He told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey, while my son and I go over there to worship. We will come back.”
6 Abraham put the wood on Isaac’s shoulder, but he carried the hot coals and the knife. As the two of them walked along, 7-8 Isaac said, “Father, we have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”
“My son,” Abraham answered, “God will provide the lamb.”
The two of them walked on, and 9 when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. 10 He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. 11 But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
12 “Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son.
14 Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
This is a horrible story. On so many levels, it goes against the grain of a loving God, against the grain of a wise parent, against the grain of child-rearing. It is cruel, insensitive, irrational, disgusting. I truthfully thought about skipping it, about looking for something kinder, more inspiring. I wanted to protect you from this gruesome tale of a parent threatening to kill his son.
I belong to a Facebook page that discusses each Sunday’s text. The discussion on this one was fascinating. It ranged from “I’m going to skip it” to “God can do whatever God wants.”
What questions does this scripture inspire in you?
Do you wonder why a loving God would ask Abraham to kill his son? He only had two sons, one by Hagar—she and their son Ismael had already been banished to the desert because Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was jealous of the two. Abraham had only the son of him and Sarah, Issac. Having only one child was unusual in those days. The real kicker here is that God had promised Abraham lots and lots of descendants.
Genesis 17: God said to him, 4 “I am making my agreement with you: I will make you the father of many nations. 5 I am changing your name from Abram to Abraham because I am making you a father of many nations. 6 I will give you many descendants. New nations will be born from you, and kings will come from you.
And yet, Abraham was 99 years old when that promise was made and Sarah was way past child-bearing age. How could Abraham have descendants? They had Issac when Abraham was 100 years old. One son. An only child. And yet, we find this horrible story recorded —God asking Abraham to kill that one chid, the child who was supposed to produce nations of people. Was God breaking his promise to Abraham? God gives Abraham the good news that he will have grandchildren, then God takes away the only possible way for Abraham to have grandchildren.
What kind of God is that? How can we worship, adore, admire, have anything to do with a God who asks a father to kill his only son?
If we take the Bible seriously, what are we supposed to learn from this story?
Let me digress a bit and explore what it means to take the Bible seriously. For some readers, taking the Bible seriously means taking the words literally at a surface level. It is both a luxurious and lazy way to read the Bible, because it requires no searching, no questioning, no digging into the layers of meaning in each chapter. Reading the Bible literally allows us to ignore the people in the Bible, it allows us to ignore the cultural, geographical, and sociological lives of the characters who populate Scripture. Taking the Bible literally can dull the significance of God’s love and the complexity of God’s creation. Furthermore, taking the Bible literally often means that we understand it at the level of a small child, even when we are adults.
Let’s explore some of the different ways to learn from this story.
22:1 Some years later God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him.
So, this was a test. What was God testing? Apparently, God was testing Abraham’s loyalty. Was Abraham loyal enough to God that he would kill the person most precious to him? Abraham scored 100% on his test. Issac eventually had seventeen grandchildren, whose descendants eventually became the nation of Israel.
We can also look at this story of sacrifice as a significant watershed moment in Hebrew history. Abraham and Sarah lived among people of a variety of faiths and practices. Sacrificing a child or any human being was an acceptable religious practice in those days. This event between Abraham and Issac can symbolize that God does not want human sacrifice.
Another lesson here is that God will provide. God provided an acceptable substitute for the sacrifice; a ram was caught in the bushes, ready for Abraham’s knife.
An interesting correlation can be made between Abraham sacrificing Issac and God sacrificing Jesus. God gave up his only Son, just as he asked Abraham to give up Issac.
Up to the time of Jesus, animal sacrifice was practiced only in the temple in Jerusalem, not in the local synagogues. After the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, animal sacrifice was discontinued.
The hardest part of the story is believing a father would, without question, walk his son up a mountain, take out his knife and prepare to kill that son.
What do our children represent to us? I’m going to insert a modern twist here. Do we demand from our children at least part of their lives? Do we ever ask too much of them or do we ask the wrong things of them? Do we project our own wishes, our own plans on our children and try to make them into us? We hear plenty of talk about how parents make sacrifices for their children, but do we sacrifice our children to meet certain cultural standards? Do we expect our children to be star athletes, straight-A students, and computer whizzes? A year ago, I decided we would give our grandson, Charlie, music lessons. That was his birthday present from us. So now Charlie goes to class once a week, then sits at home with his dad, practicing his cello. You know what Charlie really likes to do? He likes to run. He likes to put puzzles together. He likes to play games. He likes to build things. I watched a video of his spring recital the other night. He looked worried; he looked confused; he looked stressed. He never looked happy in that video. Am I sacrificing something in Charlie because I think he should be a musician? Charlie’s father was just a little older when we started him on piano lessons. It was a disaster; we quit the lessons. Now that little boy is a band director.
What can we take home with us today? We live in a culture that stresses independence, individuality. We are expected to make our own decisions, based on rational thought. And yet, as Christians, we catch a break. We can turn our worries over to God, not by abdicating any responsibility, but by talking over with God what we can and can’t do. It’s a kind of praying, a kind of meditating. I truly believe that when we open our minds to God, God answers our prayers, not by providing miracles, not by taking away or adding something, but by giving us the time and the energy and the cerebral ability to discern what we should do.
14 Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” God does provide, not just food, rain, shelter. God provides us with choices and, if we are willing, with the wisdom to make those choices. Amen.